A primary facet of The Open Technology Fund (OTF)’s work is to support research in the core areas of access, awareness, privacy and security as they pertain to Internet freedom. Congress has repeatedly recognized the importance of this research. In designating funds for Internet freedom the past two years, explicit language was included requiring the funds be “made available for research of key threats to Internet freedom.” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee expanded on this stating that Members of the Committee:
[…] believes that the research of key threats to Internet freedom and development of technologies that provide or enhance access to the Internet is an ongoing process requiring sufficient funding to maintain a technological advantage over the censorship techniques imposed by authoritarian governments.
Since its inception, OTF has supported and currently supports a wide variety of efforts with standalone or integrated research components. Broadly speaking, the subject matter falls into three areas:
Censorship & Interference - This includes censorship detection efforts such as M-Lab, OONI-probe, HikingGFW, and Greatfire.org, as well as more comprehensive or specialized research such as the work of many Information Controls (ICFP) fellows, China’s offensive capabilities or Thinkst’s research on sock puppets in online forums.
Circumvention & Privacy - This includes researching new means of circumventing censorship such as is being done by researchers at University of California - Berkeley, the tools users are relying on for circumvention, or what’s preventing them from using Internet security tools.
Vulnerabilities & Weaknesses - OTF maintains both a Red Team Lab and Usability Lab, which provide detailed assessments on the security and privacy or usability of widely used Internet freedom tools. This also includes efforts to document security vulnerabilities such as SRLab’s effort with mobile networks.
As you can see, the supported work in these research areas spans all OTF’s modes of funding whether it be direct support, our capacity building labs, accelerator, or fellowships. As OTF significantly expands its fellowship program to include usability and emerging technology, we expect to significantly increase the breadth of research supported with Internet freedom funds.
OTF has also utilized its unique perch to craft detailed in-country reports. To date, these have been performed in Myanmar and Vietnam. The reports offer a comprehensive look at the ICT landscape inside each country with a focus on censorship. OTF expects to continue these in-depth reports by selecting one country annually to perform a rigorous assessment.
Thanks to increased staff capacity, OTF will also be compiling and publishing information about ongoing censorship events or countries with emerging or expanding censorship practices.
In both instances, we hope the insights offered about how Internet censorship practices are evolving and the surrounding ICT climate will offer a new resource to the Internet freedom community in informing their work.
OTF recognizes, like Congress and other supporters of our community’s work, the critical importance of research in ensuring users continue to not only have effective circumvention tools but also those that protect their privacy and security. We look forward to building on the research supported to date, both internally and externally, as practices inhibiting Internet freedom continue to expand globally.